Interesting Question

The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another....We are the state, and we shall continue to be the state until we have created the institutions that form a real community and society of men.

- Gustav Landauer, Schwache Stattsmanner, Schwacheres Volk!, June, 1910

Selected Correspondence:

26 June 2006

Tale of the Tesla coil, or learned idiocy

Tiki Swain, is Science Works demonstrator. Science Works has a lightning generator, a 2 million volt Tesla coil, a very noisy and impressive machine. She writes:
So I've asked the question "What is lightning?". Usually I get the older kids (who've learnt a few things at school) saying "Electricity", "static electricity", "electric current", "a flow of electric charges". And younger kids say things like "It's a bright light", "a bolt from the sky", "it happens in a storm", "it's a light that comes with a big bang". This time, I got emotive/experiential words - very unusual. I'd ask what lightning was, and they'd say "It's scary". "It's loud". "It's exciting". "It's noisy".

The younger children's descriptions are powerful, communicatable phenominological descriptions of nature. The older children's descriptions are useless, unexperienced rules that they've learnt to regurgitate. One may as well say 'God makes it go'. And that is preceicely the point, authority makes it go.

By being an adult asking for a question to which she obviously already knew the answer, she had given them some kind of regurgitation context. The older children give answers that fit social expections not answers that are meaningful --- because the social expectation is to produce meaningless answers! The younger children are not yet sophisticated enough at understanding social context so reveal what they really think i.e something with predictive and descriptive power.

Why do things fall to earth? Answering 'gravity' only tells you about a rule human beings have agreed on. The rule is, when asked why stuff falls one should reply with the word 'gravity' and not, say 'love' or 'God'. But it is a pleasure to say that apples 'love' planets just as much as planets 'love' apples and that 'love' fades with inverse square distance. Ah huh! There is your true content, it's the predictive description of behavior in the last part of the sentence, which we may call anything we wish. The younger children describe the behavior of the natural world. The older children describe the behavior of society alone. They're not stupid. They know their survival depends on saying the right thing, at all possible times to people in power.